Are you aware of the exact moment you fall asleep? Getting into the state of meditation is much like getting into the state of sleep, in that you can use techniques to help you get there but the techniques are not the sleep (or meditation) itself. You ‘fall’ into meditation, in the same way, you ‘fall’ asleep. The techniques we talk about do point in the direction of meditation, but even if you are not able to meditate they also have benefits in their own right. There are three main categories of meditation techniques that we are going to cover, try to approach all of them openly and see the effects they have on you. Different styles will be better suited to different types of people.
1. Single Pointed Concentration
All meditations in this category are aimed at developing your concentration (Dharana – see eight limbs of Yoga in Sutras of Patanjali). As the name suggests this involves bringing your whole focus and attention to one point or object. The purpose is to steady the mind and develop more concentration power so that you can use that to observe your mind later. This is particularly helpful for those whose minds are so agitated that they cannot observe anything quietly. Learning to rein in your internal dialogue and be able to use it as an analytical tool rather than a source of anxiety and tension.
Common objects of observation are;
- Points on the body
- Contemplating a single thought
- A mark on a wall or a piece of paper
2. Dynamic Meditation
Dynamic meditations are used to trigger and release blocked or suppressed emotions. It involves allowing the body to move without judgment in exactly the way it wants. It works on instantly channeling a feeling but also on deeply suppressed emotions going all the way back to childhood.
Why is this necessary or useful? Those suppressed emotions initially release chemical impulses into the body e.g. Anger releases adrenaline, testosterone, and cortisol but can also have long-term effects on particular areas of the body. Although the initial effect may disappear quickly, the lasting effects of repeatedly releasing surges of these chemicals into your body will lead to many mental and physical illnesses. (This is one of the reasons exercise is recommended for depression)
Different techniques include;
- Dancing – the craze in ecstatic dance and five rhythms is growing, where participants are taken on a journey using music and encouraged to dance freely and vigorously.
- Catharsis- shaking, jumping, bouncing, and generally moving the body continuously and without thought.
Crying, laughing, and talking gibberish.
- Asana Practice – some styles of asana practice particularly ones with a set sequence work as a dynamic meditation allowing you to flow through and break through emotional barriers. You will likely find particular poses that bring up certain feelings.
3. Analytical Mediation
By observing and understanding what is happening to you, you start finding out the root cause of your feelings. You can start to ‘let go’, so that when you find yourself in similar situations in the future the emotion returns with less intensity, or not at all.
In order to engage in analytical meditation, you need to attain a certain level of concentration. The people who usually get on best with this type of practice are intellectual thinkers. Analytical meditation taps into the critical/logical mind to analyze situations, emotions, and thoughts patterns of our mind.
For an analytical meditation to be ‘successful’ we want to go beyond the usual habitual thought patterns and tap into our wisdom. By analyzing a concept from different angles we can come to understand certain concepts that we otherwise would never have understood.
This is essentially the premise of modern psychiatry, as at least to begin with you should undertake analytical meditations under the guidance of a teacher (or psychiatrist). In order to break those conditioned thoughts and thought patterns, you use their guidance and suggestions. After you have come to a certain conclusion and realization you can take up the meditation yourself.
Subjects of meditation
- Specific Memories and their emotional connections
- Specific feelings or negative emotions
- All-encompassing positive emotions, like love and compassion
Sometimes it makes sense to read up about a subject before joining the meditation. It is important to have a relatively calm mind, so start with at least 5 minutes of single-pointed concentration mediation.
Although padmasana (lotus pose) is said to be the best posture for meditation as it keeps the back straight and helps bring energy upwards by blocking the legs. It is of no use if it is at all uncomfortable for you to sit in the posture.
You should not damage your knees by sitting for a long time in a posture you are not prepared for, also if you are continuously moving and uncomfortable it will not be possible to meditate. So whichever position you choose you should be able to sit without moving for 20 minutes. Choose the meditation postures which suit you.
Sit in such a way that your spine is straight, you can decide if it makes the most sense for you to sit in a chair or on a cushion, or on the floor.
The hands and arms should be relaxed, either resting on the knees or resting in the lap with the right hand on top of the left hand or in some Mudras (hand gestures to make the energy flow in a particular way). Should the eyes be closed or open? Well Buddhist meditation teaches you to keep your eyes slightly open, not so that you are able to focus or get dry eyes but not completely closed as this can make you fall asleep (they always choose to follow the middle way) others say close completely, sometimes (as in trataka) the eyes must be completely open.
Developing a Meditation Practice
It is highly recommended to take up mediation first with a teacher you trust and feel comfortable with. If you like to practice meditation at home, start with 5-10 minutes every day. It is more important to have a stable regular practice instead of one day a week for 45 minutes and no meditation the other days in the week. Like anything, skill comes with practice, which is very much true for meditation. Create a nice calm place in your room/house and keep that place clean. Go there with a smile and leave with a smile! Keep it light and simple, especially when you just get started. And rejoice in your meditation practice, even if it was for 5 minutes only and your thoughts were flying everywhere. You were there with good intentions. Results will come!
- Reduces stress
Stress is a part of life that we cannot run away from it can be used as a tool to drive and motivate but in excess leads to disease. If meditation is approached with the intent of ridding you of stress, you will likely be stressed during the process (and miss the point entirely). Approach meditation as an experimental technique and the reduction of stress and stress-related diseases like anxiety, hypertension, and diabetes, will come as a happy side effect.
- Helps regulate blood pressure
- Regulation of the nervous system and the endocrine system
- Sharpens reasoning skills, and memory power
- Improves mental concentration and stability
- Reduces restlessness and anxiety
- Reduces involuntary thoughts (the ones you would like not to think and keep getting in the way of what you want to do).
- Establishes control and balance of emotions
- Releasing of the ego, and therefore anger, and greed
- Can alleviate headaches and insomnia while improving immunity, and slowing the aging process.
- Practicing with dedication over a long time will lead to true realization
Misconceptions Around Meditation
- Meditation is not a philosophy, a dogma, or a belief system.
- All exercises, to acquire Siddhis or supernatural powers or any kind of wish fulfillment are not Meditation.
- Any kind of Japa, chanting can trigger boredom resulting in Nidra – a sleepy state and is not a state of Meditation.
- Concentration in any form, whether on a Bindu/dot, thought, name, mantra or breath, etc. is not meditation itself but can lead you to meditation.
- Meditation is not about running away from the world and its responsibilities into some cave in the Himalayas.